Spider-Man (2002)

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Spider-Man (2002)

Post  BoG on Sat Nov 22, 2014 12:15 am

The first big-budget, big screen adaptation of perhaps the most popular super-hero (introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 from Marvel Comics) was a long time in coming - plans were hatched since about 1985 by Cannon Films and then James Cameron almost directed a feature in the mid-nineties for Carolco. There were legal problems which contributed to the delays, but maybe this was fortunate, because we've since learned that Cameron's treatment strayed very far from the comic book version of the super-hero. We ended up with a version which stayed mostly faithful to the original concept and framework, as created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko way back, thanks in large part to fan Sam Raimi, Director. The film broke box office records with its first weekend, becoming the first film to break $100 million in its first weekend (I remember when I first saw a figure for its first day, a Friday, of about $40 million and thought this was an estimate for the entire weekend). It was also the highest-grossing film that year - 2002 - beating out the 2nd Lord of the Rings film and the 2nd Star Wars film.
The plot follows much of the original story from the books - Peter Parker (Maguire) lives with his elderly aunt (Rosemary Harris) and uncle (Robertson) in the Forest Hills-Queens neighborhood of New York, struggling with senior year in high school and unrequited love for neighbor Mary Jane (Dunst).  Then, one day, his class goes on a field trip to the laboratories of rich industrialist Norman Osborn (Dafoe). Parker's only buddy happens to be Osborn's son, Harry (Franco).  Parker gets bitten by a genetically-altered spider and swiftly becomes ill. However, the next morning, he finds his eyesight improved, his physique improved, and gradually uncovers the rest of his powers (super-strength, reflexes and - most freaky - the ability to shoot webbing from his wrists). He quickly attempts to make some money with his new 'talents,' entering a goofy wrestling competition, but the fight promoter cheats him out of the prize money; in retaliation, Parker allows a thief to escape the building. This has tragic consequences for Parker's family and he learns, just as in the books, that with great power comes great responsibility. His next step is to conceive a secret identity for himself, in the form of a now-familiar costume and a simple agenda of capturing criminals.

Norman Osborn, meanwhile, has had his own setbacks, driven out of his own company; his response is to conduct an experiment on himself and he's transformed into a raging megalomaniac with super-strength. He also acquires a special battle suit and motorized glider which makes him look like some flying goblin, hence his code name, The Green Goblin. He seeks revenge against the executives who betrayed him and this brings him into conflict with Spider-Man. The story juxtaposes the scenes of the super-humans in combat with scenes of the characters interacting in their 'civilian' guises. Norman becomes a new father figure or uncle to Parker and this lends an unusual and creepy vibe to the standard super-villain role. Parker also interacts with Mary Jane in both his guises; he's able to be more relaxed in his masked guise, creating a weird, double relationship with his 'almost girlfriend.'  The story creates some well-rounded characters - perhaps it dwells too much on some aspects, such as Mary Jane's miserable family life, but it's certainly more textured than the usual 'flaky girl-next-door' character. There are also other realistic moments of tension and repercussions - Harry craves his father's respect and it doesn't help that Parker seems better suited to being Norman's offspring.
The film may be somewhat lacking in generating true excitement - though the credits with Danny Elfman's score sets a great tone - but the combo of Parker's personal life and gritty super-heroics is nicely balanced throughout. A big plus to the overall film is how it sticks with the themes of Parker's new life mission, his being driven mostly by guilt and a need for redemption. These themes are evident even earlier: it seems as if the entire world is against him; even when he first dons a mask to enter a wrestling match and no one in the vast audience there knows who he is, they're all shouting for his downfall. Even his uncle, one of the only 2 people in the world on his side, seems to turn against him just before he's killed, though that's more a function of Parker's immaturity. Someone in Parker's place could (and should) very easily turn into a major villain with a major chip on his shoulder. One could argue it's easy to become a hero if you have a billion dollars (Batman) or be invulnerable to harm (Superman). Parker has nothing and he bleeds profusely in this film. None of this deters him - he is so focused on his mission, a life mission which has him looking forward to a lonely and painful journey for year after year.

A funny thing about Maguire - I saw his likeness on the poster of another film a few months before Spider-Man opened and thought immediately - that is Peter Parker of the books! He seems an inspired choice for the role, even with an over-emphasis on timidity and hesitancy in his approach to the part. Dafoe is dangerously close to camp but steers clear of that trap and twitches in his madness to disturbing effect. Dunst manages to be soulful and vulnerable. Franco is kind of a butt-head. And then there's J.K. Simmons as the famous J.Jonah Jameson, the newspaper man who becomes an ever-present thorn in Spider-Man's side; he's a caricature, but he's also very amusing in capturing that manic energy of the comic book character.  There are weaknesses to the plot - when Parker suddenly is able to out-maneuver and make a fool of big bully  Flash Thompson (Joe Manganiello) with superhuman swiftness, none of the many witnesses make the connection to the new super-hero (a commentary on brain-dead high schoolers?). Overall, though, it's solid, even classic entertainment. BoG's Score: 8.5 out of 10
Spider Trivia: the Green Goblin's death scene closely copies his death scene in the comic books, from issue #122, though, as with many Marvel super-villains, he was eventually - many years later - revealed as alive in the books; there was a previous live action version of Spider-Man, a TV Movie in 1977, followed by a few TV episodes in '78; the sequel to this 2002 version arrived in 2004, with much of the same cast (except the ones playing characters who didn't make it through this one, though Dafoe still managed a cameo); several cameos in this one: Bruce Campbell as the fight announcer; Lucy Lawless as a punk girl interviewed on the street; Stan Lee as a man dodging debris after the Goblin attacks the World Unity Fair; and 'Macho Man' Randy Savage as the wrestler
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